Is annoying people the way to persuade them to change their mind?

That’s the question which is – or perhaps more accurately, which should be – at the heart of many online lobbying campaigns which seek to flood people’s inboxes with emails. Done well, at the right moment and aimed at the right target, these mass email campaigns can be a very effective tool for stressing the level of support for a point of view and making people engage with it. Done badly, they are an extremely effective way at lowering the reputation of the lobbying organisation and damaging its cause.

A good recent example has been the online campaigning around electoral reform, particularly during the post-general election coalition negotiations. Some of this was well intended and well executed, but some was woefully ill thought out and simply resulted in pro-electoral reform Liberal Democrats, who should have welcomed the campaigning, cursing badly aimed and poorly phrased identikit emails.

This question of what makes for an effective email campaign comes to mind thanks to the recent spat between Conservative MP Dominic Raab and 38 Degrees. Dom Raab took exception to the emails he was receiving from the public via a 38 Degrees campaign and though there are some decent points about bad mass email campaigns lurking in his account of the affair, any MP who gets to the point where they ask the Parliamentary authorities to remove their email address from Parliament’s website so that people can’t use it to contact him has seriously misjudged affairs.

38 Degrees have printed the full email exchange on their own site and overall come out far the better from the exchange, though their own reliance on blanket mass emails in other campaigns has not always struck me as a useful approach, except in the rather cynical sense of wanting to build their own list regardless of whether or not the mass emails are being effective. The risk for 38 Degrees is that though they have done other campaigning too, their model is so heavily built around the email approach that they may end up being stuck with using a tool because it’s what they do rather than because it’s the right one for the job.

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14 Comments

  • Sending e-mails in numbers which amount to spam, for whatever reason, even a good cause, should be classified as nuisence which can’t be justified for any reason. This kind of mindless swamping of inboxes strikes me as extremely counter-productive. I for one am likely to be put off even very deserving causes if they were to inconvenience and harrass me in this way – and yes, I do find spam almost as unpleasant as harrassment in the real world.

    It’s a bit more difficult to decide whether an an MP has the right to have the same objections: I am not sure that he has much ground to stand on, since it is part of his job to be accessible. Since he has staff to deal with his correspondence, he’ll just have to find a way of deflecting the spam and fnd the real correspondence.

    But 38degrees is behaving pretty despicably, too, in my opinion, both exploiting well-meaning supporters and those who get the whole spam pushed into their inboxes every day. That’s not a way of suporting a good cause.

  • Colin Green 10th Aug '10 - 3:24pm

    “Is annoying people the way to persuade them to change their mind?”

    Could one pretend to be from the “no” camp and really annoy people with a badly judged “no” campaign in order to annoy them into voting yes? [said with tongue in cheek]

  • I don’t know what he’s getting so worked up about – it’s not as if it’s difficult to work out an MP’s email address anyway (surname and first initial as one word, followed by @parliament.uk.)

    By the way Mark, that’s three headlines as a question in a row – are you in danger of becoming the Daily Mail? 🙂

  • Wearing my work (campaigning) hat, I have long encouraged members of the organisation for which I work to write personally to their MPs (or MSPs, MEPs, whatever). I suggest some broad areas to cover, but have always urged them to use their own experiences and put things into their own words. One email or letter like that is worth quite a few clearly automated spam-like emails, plus I am not left with the dirty feeling of being a spammer.

  • I get the point about petition rather than individual email but unless it’s a local campaign, it’ll mean setting one up for every MP, not very practical.

  • Andrew Suffield 10th Aug '10 - 6:27pm

    But 38degrees is behaving pretty despicably, too

    What, by sending him around two emails from his constituents each day? I can’t imagine why you think there is anything wrong with that.

  • I sent a PERSONALISED version of such an email to our new Tory MP re the AV referendum sabotage attempts, and got a very nice, half-handwritten and very SUPPORTIVE letter back. Feel a bit guilty now 😉

  • Annoying people achieves absolutely nothing positive. It creates a very negative attitude on the part of the person being annoyed and can never be a useful tool in trying to persuade him/her to change his/her mind. In my experience, reasoned argument is the ony way to persuade someone.

    It is the same as has operated throughout the ages. If someone feels that you are trying to steamroller them into agreeing with you, then any agreement that they might state will not last two minutes – and they will resent you for treating them in that way. If they feel that they have arrived at a new opinion by agreeing with your reasoned argument, then that change of opinion is likely to be permanent – or at least last as long as it takes them to get to the ballot bax.

  • Am I the only one that read this headline and assumed it was about the amount of paper we shove through people’s letterboxes at election times…

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